Kagawa hat-trick keeps United on course for title
LONDON (AP):Shinji Kagawa's hat-trick and a stunning goal from Wayne Rooney maintained Manchester United's march to the English Premier League title yesterday, while Rafa Benitez was spared a fierce backlash from Chelsea fans in the team's 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion.
United provisionally moved 15 points clear at the top with a 4-0 thrashing of Norwich at Old Trafford, with Japan midfielder Kagawa opening the scoring just before half-time and grabbing two more well-taken goals to become the first Asian player to score a hat-trick in England's top division.
Rooney garnished the scoreline with a long-distance screamer in injury time as United warmed up for their Champions League match against Real Madrid in style. Second-place Manchester City play Aston Villa tomorrow.
Chelsea provisionally moved into third place, thanks to Demba Ba's 28th-minute winner, giving Benitez some respite after his midweek tirade against the club's fans and board that appeared to leave him in a precarious position.
The hostility among the home support was expected to be cranked up, but the atmosphere was relatively calm inside Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the serenity to secure a crucial win in their battle for a finish in the Champions League spots.
"There were a lot of positives," Benitez said. "The reception from the crowd was quite good. I wanted everybody to stick together."
Tottenham in fourth
Tottenham, who provisionally slipped to fourth, host fifth-place Arsenal today.
Last-place Queens Park Rangers gave their survival hopes a boost by winning 2-1 at Southampton to move three points adrift of Reading, who lost 3-1 at Everton.
Swansea's first game since winning the League Cup final last weekend ended in a 1-0 victory at home to Newcastle, with Luke Moore scoring a late winner, while Sunderland came from two goals down to draw 2-2 against Fulham.
West Ham stopped their slide into the relegation trouble by beating Stoke 1-0 away.
Luis Suarez netted a hat-trick as rampant Liverpool beat Wigan 4-0, putting the Uruguay forward atop the Premier League scoring list. After Stewart Downing put the visitors ahead in just the second minute, Suarez effectively decided the game by making it 3-0 by the 34th - his second goal coming with a stroke of luck as he slipped when taking a free kick, but the ball deflected off the defensive wall and into the net.
21st league goal of the season
He then completed his hat-trick shortly after the break for his 21st league goal of the season, putting him ahead of Manchester United's Robin van Persie on 19. He joins Robbie Fowler and Fernando Torres as the only Liverpool players to score at least 20 goals in a Premier League campaign.
The win kept Liverpool in seventh place, while Wigan are only out of the relegation zone on goal difference.
All the Manchester United pre-match build-up centred on the possibility of Ryan Giggs making his 1,000th senior appearance for United, but it was another midfielder who stole the headlines at Old Trafford.
Playing only his second game since January, Kagawa showed just why Alex Ferguson spent £12 million bringing him from Borussia Dortmund in the summer with his best display in a United shirt.
All his finishes were classy, his first a measured volley inside the near post to put United on their way. Kagawa then wrong-footed Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn in the 76th after running on to Rooney's pass and he chipped Bunn to complete his hat-trick three minutes from time.
Kagawa, who has struggled to recover his best form after sustaining a knee injury in October, walked away with the match ball for scoring three goals, but the best strike was saved for last, as Rooney shimmied past a defender before looping a brilliant shot into the top corner from 30 yards.